Lakeland resident wants homeless out of downtown

Posted at 2:21 AM, Sep 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-24 02:21:59-04

The homeless population is growing in Lakeland and at least one resident is urging the city to get a handle on it quickly.

Ellen Williamson says she's noticed the problem surging in recent years on her daily walks through Lakeland neighborhoods and downtown.

"It's like, what is it, night of the living dead? Where the zombies are all going in  he same direction, that's what it is. They're all coming to downtown to sleep and they urinate and defecate wherever they are," she said.

The City of Lakeland admits that recently, the problem has gotten worse with more homeless and aggressive panhandling in certain parks.

City Spokesman Kevin Cook tells ABC Action News that the Lakeland Police Department is trying to step up patrolling of the panhandling and camping ordinances, but their hands are almost tied.

"It's not against the law to be homeless," Cook said.

Under the ordinance, officers have to watch a homeless person sleep on a bench for a full 30 minutes before handing over a ticket.

"Unfortunately, as time progresses, the Talbot House and other social service agencies can only serve so many and there is a spillover," he said.

Timothy Randall was homeless for almost two years, but just recently got it together thanks to one of the charities in Lakeland.

"Lighthouse has really changed my life and I can really see the goodness in my life," he said.

But as much good as the social service agencies do, Williamson believes they are part of the problem.

The homeless are flocking here form nearby counties because they know there's help.

"Word is out that Lakeland is the land of milk and honey. They have Lighthouse Ministries and Talbot House here, send them here and they'll take care of them," Williamson said. "The homeless you can help. The chronically homeless, the derelict homeless you can't help. They're just a blight on society and always will be."

Williamson suggested the City Commission look into moving some of the charities and social serve agencies away from downtown and out of Lakeland so the homeless would follow.

Others say that wouldn't solve the root problem.